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Products in multiple categories - breadcrumbs and canonicals

I'm curious what peoples opinions are for solutions for this problem.

     
10:50 am on Nov 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I'm curious what popular opinion is with regard to maximising.

a. The benefit of Google being better ablt to assume Siloing a product, based on the breadcrumbs.
b. Issues of crawl volume.
c. Any actual impact on rankings.

On going with one of the following solutions for products in multiple categories

1. Product in multiple categories. Multiple Urls. Multiple breadcrumbs. Canonical to main category + product url

Mysite.com/category1/product1.html breadcrumb to Mysite.com/category1. Canonical to Mysite.com/category1/product1.html
Mysite.com/category2/product1.html breadcrumb to Mysite.com/category2. Canonical to Mysite.com/category1/product1.html
Mysite.com/category3/product1.html breadcrumb to Mysite.com/category3. Canonical to Mysite.com/category1/product1.html

All have a canonical to Mysite.com/category1/product1.html the most important category

2. Product in multiple categories. Single Url. Multiple breadcrumbs pointing back to each of the categories.
Mysite.com/product1.html breadcrumb to Mysite.com/category1, breadcrumb to Mysite.com/category2, breadcrumb to Mysite.com/category3

3. Product in multiple categories. Single Url. Single Breadcrumb
Mysite.com/product1.html breadcrumb to Mysite.com/category1

Who is doing what, why and what impact do you see this having on SEO?
11:26 am on Nov 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The one that works best for the user, not g?

Or ... anything that is clear and obvious the perhaps the best way?

Or ... don't over think things, just don't do something stupid?
12:55 pm on Nov 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The one that works best for the user, not g?
I'm trying of course, to achieve both
9:34 am on Nov 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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richinberlin, you've chosen a tricky area, and you're sort of partway there. You've identified the basic issues and you're beginning to ask the right questions, which is much better than most. Yes, IMO, you need to avoid multiple urls for those otherwise identical product pages, so they won't be seen as dupe content. It's an area which can take hours or weeks to discuss, and on which, I should emphasize, there is still not a consensus.

My approach has been derived and guided by the work of a past member of these forums, username "g1smd", who was a pioneer in identifying and avoiding problems with duplicate content (including, I should add, canonicalization). In some of my comments below, I'm either quoting or heavily paraphrasing him.

-- First, it's not clear whether you're asking about...
a) setting up a new site...
-- or
b) making breadcrumb adjustments on an existing site

As you'll come to see, your simple choices are very limited on an existing site. To get this started, I'll give a further overview of the basic problem, describe the existing site solution firstm. and for new site development, give suggestions for further reading.


Basically, to make your situation as described in this thread's title workable... ie, products in multiple categories... the key is to have a unique url for each product page, make your product pages root relative, and keep each product page url separated from the category hierarchy path the user takes to get to that page.

Details will become clearer as you read the threads I reference (and perhaps read through this thread more than once)....

Stated another way, do not carry your directory and subdirectory names in the product page urls. Keep them separate. Important to note that nav structure and site structure are not necessarily the same.


You should hierarchically structure your html site... with categories and subcategories reflected in that structure... and keep the navigation paths out of the urls of your product pages. Again, make your product pages root relative... either from your site's root directory, or from a directory called something like /pages/ or /products/. I wouldn't divide them finer.

Breadcrumbs can be treated several ways, and Google should be able to pick them up from the approach you choose. Suggestions and details in the threads I'll reference below, which, as my time permits for now, have too many considerations to try to reproduce here.


Before I post those references, let me now go through the situations you outline in you opening post, and you'll have a better perspective yet on your choices....

1. Product in multiple categories. Multiple Urls. Multiple breadcrumbs. Canonical to main category + product url
I would avoid multiple product page url situations that depend on how Google (or any other search engine) sorts out rel canonical tags. Why give Google pretzels to sort out? Also, I'm not sure that rel canonical links are appropriate in this situation. This, IMO, should be avoided whether site is existing or will be built (or rebuilt) fresh.


2. Product in multiple categories. Single Url. Multiple breadcrumbs pointing back to each of the categories.
If you want multiple breadcrumbs, this is best for using an existing site with no major changes. In ecommerce sites, I like breadcrumbs for helping users navigate. You certainly can display several different breadcrumb paths on a single page, though multiple breadcrumbs may conflict and interfere with breadcrumb display in Google serps. I don't have current observations on that.


3. Product in multiple categories. Single Url. Single Breadcrumb
This of course the simplest for current site, perhaps most appropriate if you have a strong preference for the product page context... say, one which might lead to the most conversions.

Note that instead of additional breadcrumb links, you might want to use "find more" links, linking say to corresponding categories for the parallel navigation paths. (Could also be applied to option 2).


I'll link to the threads I have in mind in a second post, so this doesn't become too unwieldy.

9:44 am on Nov 10, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The first thread I'll mention is what I'd call a seminal thread, one where I'd felt that the original poster was conflating several issues. I looked at the alternatives, bring the discussion around to this approach, which might be helpful. The thread includes "g1smd" in dialogue with "ergophobe", two of our great posters on the topic. It lays out the basics and goes into some nuances that I find interesting and helpful...

Should I flatten my store's URL structure for better SEO?
Feb 2013
https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4543213.htm [webmasterworld.com]

Also, follow up the two posts I link to, which contain sections relevant to this topic.


This thread, started by ergophobe, referencees many of the discussions with g1smd on the topic of hierarchical urls, pro and con, in part in relations to breadcrumbs. Beautifully organized opening post and excellent discussion throughout. Should keep you reading for a long while...

Rewards and Risks of Changing to Hierarchical URL Structure
Aug 2015
https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4760622.htm [webmasterworld.com]


And here's a thread referenced in the above discussion perhaps asking a question similar to yours....

structured URL's or non structured? Whats best
Jan, 2015
https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4729008.htm [webmasterworld.com]


I've included the dates on these, as some are fairly old... but I suspect that these basic considerations of dupe content still matter.

9:52 am on Nov 11, 2019 (gmt 0)

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^ ^ ^ ^ Whoops! ...Dangers of posting at 1:30 AM (as I'm also doing now.)

In my first post of the two above, I see that my response is garbled when I compare options 1, 2, and 3.

Option (1) is the only approach that's even possible using product page urls that carry the category path info. It would depend on the rel canonical link to work in a pretzel-like situation, though, and I wouldn't recommend it for reasons I mentioned.

Options (2) and (3) specify "single urls", which, IMO, would require implementation of the root relative product page links as I describe. This would require at least a lot of recoding of an existing site, along with server redirection. Most likely, neither options 2 nor 3 can use the current existing site. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I posted the other night.

Regarding 2 and 3, either single or several sets of breadcrumbs can be shown on a product page. The "paths" are derived not from the product page url, but from the user paths followed in the hierarchy of html "substructure" leading to the page carrying the product page link. The setup for this is illustrated in several of g1smd's posts.

In ergophobe's thread on *adding* hierarchical urls, I then discuss how Google might determine breadcrumbs that would be shown in the SERPs, from descriptive information on the page internal linking patterns.

So, putting multiple breadcrumbs on a product page could possibly confuse Google's selection of which user-path to choose for serp display, and that consideration may need to be rethought.

Hoping the rest of the above makes sense. It's heavy reading, because it's such a reorientation for many of us here... and not at all easy to summarize.

That said, many ecommerce platforms I've seen are set up with root relative product page links.